Dr. Horacio Arruda's 'communications coach' still deemed necessary, gets contract renewed

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, responds to a question during a news conference in Montreal, on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Quebec's director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, will keep getting to draw on the advice of a "communications coach."

Eric Gamache's contract has been renewed, The Canadian Press learned Thursday. It had expired on January 31.

Gamache, a former PQ strategist, was hired in November to help Arruda. His mandate was to support Arruda "in the adequate delivery of public health messages."

It wasn't clear on Thursday to know whether Gamache will continue to work under the same conditions -- that is to say, a three-month contract with a maximum value of $61,000.

"There is currently an amendment being drafted which will specify the various details of this renewal," said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Marjorie Larouche.

She said that Gamache continued to provide service during the discussions around the renewal of his contract; he was the one who prepared Arruda for last Tuesday's press briefing.

Arruda is known for his long and sometimes confusing answers. He revealed in November that he had enlisted the help of a communications adviser to polish his speaking.

But the decision to hire an expert from outside the Ministry of Health -- at a cost to taxpayers -- raised eyebrows. Arruda had explained that he wanted to provide "good benefits."

There have been other problems. Last May, Arruda sparked controversy by dancing in a rap video while deaths accumulated in CHSLDs. He then gave an emotional apology.

Arruda later agreed to attend a conference with business people where entry was chargeable, and had to cancel his participation in the wake of controversy over it.

He was also tricked by an energy radio host who was posing as director Xavier Dolan.

During the call, which lasted about fifteen minutes, Horacio Arruda agreed to play a superhero in an upcoming Dolan film.

"Since Dr. Arruda is the face of public health during the crisis, strategic communication support is deemed necessary," the Ministry of Health said.

"This includes 'dry runs' before public appearances, debriefing after media appearances and strategic advice on demand."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021.

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